Food assistance and children's eating patterns, food insecurity, and overweight : The influence of local food prices
Objectives: We examine how local food prices influence children’s body mass index (BMI), overweight, food insecurity, and food consumption, and whether receipt of public food assistance moderates these associations. Methods: We linked data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), a nationally representative study of children from birth to age 5, to local food price data from the ACCRA Cost-of-Living Index (COLI) (approx. 11,700 observations). Using OLS, linear probability, and fixed effects (FE) models, we exploit the variability in food price data over time and among children who move residences. Results: Results indicate that higher-priced fruits and vegetables are associated with higher standardized measures of children’s BMI. This relationship is driven by fresh (vs. frozen or canned) fruits and vegetables. In the FE models, higher-priced soft drinks are associated with a lower likelihood of being overweight, and surprisingly, higher fast food prices are associated with a greater likelihood of being overweight. Food prices are largely unassociated with children’s food consumption. There is limited evidence that food stamp receipt mitigates the effect of food prices on adult-level food insecurity. Conclusions: Policies that reduce the costs of fresh fruits and vegetables may be effective in promoting healthy weight among young children.